Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw law expert urges Canadians to move beyond MMIWG genocide debate

An expert in Indigenous law at Dalhousie University says the finding of genocide by the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls shouldn't be used as an excuse for Canadians to disengage with a 1,200-page report that includes a wide range of recommendations.

Naiomi Metallic says inquiry report filled with recommendations to end violence

Naiomi Metallic is chancellor's chair in Aboriginal law and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Stephanie VanKampen)

An expert in Indigenous law at Dalhousie University says the finding of genocide by the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls shouldn't be used as an excuse for Canadians to disengage with a 1,200-page report that includes a wide range of recommendations.

Since its release last month, there's been a countrywide debate over the finding that genocide has been committed against Indigenous peoples, in particular against women, girls and LGBTQ people such as two-spirit.

"I wouldn't actually engage with somebody on the issue of the genocide question unless they were an expert on genocide, they read the summary report on genocide, or otherwise have some particular knowledge in the area." said Naiomi Metallic, chancellor's chair in Aboriginal law and policy at Dalhousie in Halifax.

What Canadians should also focus on, she said, are the solutions contained in the report, including what non-Indigenous people can do and how violence against Indigenous women and girls should be thought of as a human rights issue.

A woman embraces Commissioner Qajaq Robinson during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Que., on June 3. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Over the past 30 years, inquiries and commissions with similar mandates to the MMIWG inquiry have taken place in Canada, including the 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Metallic, who is Mi'kmaq, said she's often heard people question why another report is needed. She said the MMIWG report focuses on Indigenous women and girls in a way that hasn't been done before.

"They said that we need to frame the discussion in terms of substantive equality, human rights and Indigenous rights," said Metallic. "Particularly in the context of international human rights."

She notes Bill C-262, which aimed to harmonize Canadian laws with UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, died on the Senate floor weeks after the report was released.

While she's unhappy with what happened in the Senate, she said there's much that can also be done outside of politics.

'Be knowledgeable'

She appreciates the emphasis in the report on how non-Indigenous people can be good allies in the effort to combat racism and break down barriers. The report includes documents for "everyday people."

"That's a call to action that people can do that is directed at the individual and is not far removed," said Metallic. "Read up on issues. Be knowledgeable. Read things from an Indigenous perspective, not just from non-Indigenous authors." 

Some people, Metallic said, view reconciliation as anything they want it to be. But it should be deeper than that, and is about healing a relationship.

"They do the most easy, symbolic thing, which is good, but not really delving deep into the complex relationship," said Metallic. "Hanging a flag is easy, but there's more to be done. People say, 'We do a land acknowledgement. Reconciliation? Done.'"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kaitlyn Swan is a Cree multimedia journalist from Regina. Three years ago she traded the sound of trains for the sound of foghorns. She now lives in Dartmouth, N.S., constantly pumped about water and windy roads, scenery she didn't get often in the Prairies. Reach her on Twitter @SaitlynKwan, or by email kaitlyn.swan@cbc.ca

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